Brian Houston, the Church, Pedophilia, and the Law

"Brian Houston's Law" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Brian Houston’s Law” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

Brian Houston relives the day he found out his dad was a pedophile.

He admits he knew right away that it was criminal. He also admits that he didn’t report it.

He has his reasons.

You know, I heard the Houstons speak here many years ago. I was impressed by them. I liked them. They were real, attractive, and inspirational.

I also sympathize with the bewilderment he must’ve been under with this revelation about his dad. What a tough spot to be in!

But the law doesn’t exist just to prevent criminals. It also exists to protect victims.

When I was a pastor of a local church the laws were clear, and the police and our insurance company made sure that we understood them. Why? Not just to protect ourselves, but to protect… usually… women and children.

We were told that sexual abuse is criminal. We were also told that failing to report it is criminal. Because (usually) the women, the children!

The church, as this cartoon hopefully portrays, has a very complicated relationship to the law. On the one hand, it is free from it. On the other hand, it might confuse this with being above it. The church often possesses a ghetto mentality, ideologically and really cut off from the real world, where it feels it can handle all problems internally.

I think the Catholic church has actually made this policy.

Watch Spotlight.

Not so. Please.

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26 Responses

  1. Caryn LeMur says:

    Amen.

  2. Adam Julians says:

    What evidence can you give David of it being a crime to fail to report sexual abuse is a crime? From what you say about this, it appears that you are making Brian Houston out to be a criminal deserving of being punished by the law and may have considered himself above it.

    In the link you provided, he is quoted as saying “when he (the victim) came forward he was 36 or 37 years old. And he was very adamant he didn’t want to involve the police.” He also said of his father “we did tell people straight away. We did take his credentials away. He never did preach again and we did oversee and ensure that he was never put in a position to be close to kids to be able to do that again.”

    So according to Brian Houston – action was taken to ensure that once the abuse was discovered, that measures were taken to prevent it occurring again in the church and to report the crime would have been against the victim’s wishes when he came forward. It’s been said before but worth saying again that advocates for victims are great but sometimes they really do need to sit down and listen.

    It raises difficult questions about respecting a victims wishes or reporting abuse to the police.

    But not reporting a crime being a criminal offence? There is the (valid) argument that evil prospers when good men stand by and do nothing, but it being a crime to do so?

    Is this what we are saying here?

  3. Adam Julians says:

    I see the difficulty here as being in a case such as this, whether to decide to respect a victims wishes if they don’t want a crime to be reported, or to report the crime. Can’t be an easy choice to make. As a former pastor of a church, what would you have done? What the victim wanted or….?

    You have Brian Houston down as having committed a crime by not making a report to the police. I have a problem with that. This is the first that I have hear of that not reporting a crime is a crime. With all due respect, I’m not convinced of this being a fact by you commenting it is a a criminal offence. Therefore I question the reality of that.

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

  4. Google it Adam. It’s a criminal offense. Period. Take some time and watch The Spotlight (movie). To leave it up to victims and families is exactly what the perpetrating church would want because it knows it has magical control over them. Come on man!

  5. Gary says:

    I will never forget the youth pastor I had when I was about 17. An abrupt decision was made to remove him from staff and I actually helped him move. He had a convincing story about how the head pastor had done him wrong and he was being blackballed. I asked him why he did not go public and reach out for support from the congregation, naturally assuming he was telling the truth and would be able to expose the underhanded tactics of the head pastor. His response seemed very odd to me even then when he stated that it would do no good, nothing would change, and he might as well just leave quietly.

    Some months later I found out from family of the associate pastor that their 15 year old younger sister (yup…a PK) was in fact involved in a sexual relationship with the youth pastor (who was also married) and when it was discovered he was offered the opportunity to leave quietly so long as it was immediate. The reputation of the church was more important than the victim or the law, even though the victim was one of their own.

    Sexual misconduct in the church has always existed and, like in any organization filled with people, always will. But to this day the cover up remains one of the clearest examples of hypocritical abuses of power I have ever seen in the church…and I have seen many. I now recognize that the youth pastor was right about one thing…the head pastor was underhanded in the way he handled the situation. The thing is, he was given grace which he clearly did not deserve, while the young victim, the congregation, and the law itself were disregarded for one of the most unGodly reasons, prideful reputation protection.

  6. And I believe this happens far more often than people realize.

  7. Adam Julians says:

    The burden of proof David is on the one making the assertion, not the one questioning the assertion. Hitchins was right. Without your providing evidence, what you assert about not reporting a crime being a crime can be dismissed without evidence.

    Having said that I do know of volunteering with Street Pastors that if someone say, were to share that there were going to, say, rob a shop to get money to feed their drug addiction I was duty bound to report it as briefed by the police. that is somewhat different to it being a crime to not report an offence.

    However, again that is putting attention onto the perpetrator of the crime. It’s the victim that often goes neglected. And again, it must be a difficult choice to make when a victim does not want a crime to be reported. I take from you not responding to my question about what you would do in that circumstance that you don’t want to answer and/or would plead the 5th.

    Gary, I would affirm that how you have shared of your experience with the youth pastor does indeed seem to indicate that what you say was true about hypocritical abuse of power and the reputation for the church you were involved in bring more important than care for the victim. Did you report the pedophilia crime he was committing to the police when you found out about it?

    So yes it is important that a light be shone on hypocrisy and oppression of any form. In fact was this not what Jesus did in environments not unlike that faced in contemporary situations where reputation comes before doing what id right, saying that the purest form of religion is about caring for the most vulnerable and keeping oneself from being polluted by evil?

  8. Arlene says:

    Mandatory Reporting Laws

    “Many states have mandatory reporting laws requiring certain types of people to report crimes against children. These “mandatory reporters” generally include parents, teachers, school administrators, clergypersons, medical professionals, therapists, social workers, and others. In some states, however, anyone who believes child abuse is taking place must report it.

    Once a mandatory reporter witnesses an act of abuse or finds evidence of child abuse, he or she has a duty to report the incident to the appropriate authorities. That usually includes sharing important details about the incident, like the names of the victim and perpetrator. Failure to report an incidence of child abuse is a misdemeanor offense in most states.”

    – See more at: http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/failure-to-report-a-crime.html#sthash.pbdGLx6s.dpuf

    Clearly, clergy are expected to report as well as others, and if they do not not, it is a crime in most states US wise.

  9. And in Canada. And in Australia. And almost everywhere I think.

  10. Adam Julians says:

    Thanks for that link Arlene.

    It states “in most states, mere failure to report a crime isn’t a crime in itself. However, there are some exceptions.” Therefore what you say is true of what is expected for clergy in some states but not most.

    Of course none of this applies to Australia. Therefore it’s not relevant to Brian Houston.

  11. Adam Julians says:

    I don’t mean to offend.

    I just think we need to be very careful that we are sure a crime had been committed before we call someone out on it to ensure what we are doing is right before the law and therefore have substance and and can be effective in standing against evil and caring for the vulnerable.

  12. What are you talking about Adam? There is no doubt about Houston’s father being a pedophile. He admitted it. His son admitted it. There’s a line of victims. And there’s an royal commission on the fact that he failed to report it as he should have.

  13. Adam Julians says:

    My point David, is about establishing whether a crime has been committed by Brian Houston. Your cartoon shows him to be above the law and free from it “as a Christian”. It is therefore an implication that he considers Christianity to not be subject to the law and could be an implication that others Christians think similarly.

    These are serious charges.

    To not quote a relevant law for the country he lives in specifically pointing out how you allege him to have broken that law leaves you vulnerable, I think, to accusations of libel. “Almost everywhere I think” is perception, not fact. I’m not a lawyer, but try that one in court, and I suspect any decent defence attorney can have that throw out unless there is evidence of a law being broken. I think it requires more thought and engaging with substance having researched the specific law applicable to Brian Houston where he lives to make a strong case for what you argue about him and therefore be effective.

    You wouldn’t want to end up with egg on your face if you later find out that the law is different for him than you are assuming would you?

    Equally as importantly with addressing the evil of abuse – care for the victim. If the victim doesn’t want it reported, then what then is the best action to take to care for the victim?

    This is all I am saying.

  14. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    I have been following the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and this is the findings from the royal commission as it pertains to Brian Houston
    “Hillsong Church, Assemblies of God and Frank Houston

    The hearing heard evidence that when allegations about Mr Frank Houston’s abuse of AHA emerged in 1999, Mr Frank Houston’s son, Pastor Brian Houston, was the National President of the Assemblies of God in Australia. He confronted his father, who confessed to the abuse.

    The Commissioners express the view that the New South Wales Executive failed to appoint a contact person for the complainant, interview the complainant, have the State or National Executive interview the alleged perpetrator, or record any of the steps it took.

    The Commissioners state in the report that Pastor Brian Houston and the National Executive of the Assemblies of God did not refer the allegations against Mr Frank Houston to police. They also state that Pastor Brian Houston had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility for dealing with AHA’s allegations as he was both National President of Assemblies of God in Australia and the son of the alleged perpetrator.”

    Unfortunately Pastor Houston did things HIS way and although he isn’t being charged with criminal offenses, he certainly behaved above the law. Above his own churches rules and laws.

    I saw a video of Pastor Houston informing his congregation that his father was being stood down. He didn’t mention the crime at all, and simply cried and begged the congregation to forgive him. Another smokescreen to save his and his father’s reputation. And his father committed more than one offence. He actually offered the victim money to make it all go away.

    Sorry, but we are finding this to be is a typical response from churches and church institutions. And why would any victim not want to come forward? Because of the hatred they’d experience from the CHURCH for speaking up. This is a huge issue. Thank you David for drawing attention to it.

  15. maura hart says:

    there can be no debate. it is rape. it is a crime.

  16. Adam Julians says:

    That was a well argued point Shazza that you make. I think key in what you argue was the point “Brian Houston had a conflict of interest in assuming responsibility”. The argument made by Houston was the victim was “very adamant he didn’t want to involve the police.”

    These are the facts.

    Houston in the cartoon is portrayed as smug, charismatic and not caring either about the law or for the abused.

    People will of course for their own opinions. Some won’t critically engage but will form views either through loyalty to protecting Hillsong or through allegiance to the “spirit of the age” where it is en vogue to criticise Christians, especially evangelical Christians.

    But what about the victims?

  17. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    I agree Adam the victim’s rights are paramount. From my understanding, it was the victim’s mother who made the allegations public by going to her pastor, who was the pastor of another Assemblies of God church. I’m not sure why it happened that way, but it was a pastor/colleague who went to Brian Houston.

    The victim was angry with his mother for speaking about it. I can understand his anger, but his mother was a victim here too. She was not able to protect her son from a church minister. I can only imagine the pain that caused her. How hard it must have been to hear the man lauded, when he did those things to her son, who sadly wasn’t ready at that time to take action himself.

    If he had been given the opportunity to have a trained “contact person for the complainant”, I wonder if he could have had his initial horror at his abuse being exposed, reduced. He needed wise counsel and education, and I can’t imagine he got that from Brian Houston, who was way way out of line trying to make it all go away. The victim did appear however at the Royal Commission to give evidence. It’s a sad reality that most child abuse victims need time to get over their initial guilt and shame, and he was re-victimized by this process..

    In the end, Frank Houston committed a criminal act, and I seem to recall there was another victim in New Zealand, but I would need to do more research into that. Brian Houston “managed it” so neither he, his father or the church missed a beat. The victim and his family have obviously suffered very much.

    I’m not loyal to HIllsong, and I don’t criticize Christians because it’s en vogue. I work in child safety and I have a good deal of experience working with adult victims of CSA. Brian Houston is like many others I have encountered. Perhaps I would use the words arrogant and ignorant rather than smug. Cavalier with the law. And willing to throw the victims under a bus rather than risk his or his father’s reputation.

  18. Adam Julians says:

    Yes Shazza – I’m picking up from you that you are not swayed by being loyal to Hillsong or bashing Christians in order to try to be popular.

    I’m not sure if I would be as ready to hang Brian Houston out to dry as other might be. My fear is that he is he might be on the receiving end of vitriol for rage at the system or a desire to want to sensationalise about a Christian leader where energy might be better applied to supporting those in the church and justice system that are working hard for change for better protection for the vulnerable and to attending to the healing needs of those affected by the abuse.

    From what I have read, he found out about it in 1999, it was traumatic for him and with his personal involvement with it being about his dad, was probably not in a good position to cope. If I was in a position of trust and someone would come to me about abuse and then the victim not want it reported to the police, I would find it difficult to choose what to do. If it were a member of my family that was the abuser, I would find that devastating.

    You say the victim was angry with the mother for speaking out, the mother was also a victim and then the victim was re-victimised by going through the process of appearing in front of the Royal Commission. Given this, Brian Houston, the victim, and the mother have been devastated. All need or have needed healing.

    Yes, I hear that the Royal Commission found Brian Houston to be taking responsibility for something that was a police matter. How would I act in that situation? How would you? As you say, the victim, was re-victimised with the process.

    What would have been in the best interests for the victim in hindsight? And what can we learn from this, should we ever find ourselves in the position where a child is being abused and we are in a position to do something about it?

  19. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    Really good questions Adam. The purpose of the Royal Commission is to investigate processes from the past and make recommendations for future practice. It’s been staggering to hear about the cover-ups in the church and other institutions. There’s a consistent thread of protecting the institutions and making the issue go away without full disclosure.

    For all Brian Houston suffered, he behaved consistently with the other leaders who used their power to save their reputations and those of the perpetrators and the institutions. Surely those with the most power should he held to a higher standard of accountability?

    There is evidence Brian was sorry for the victims of his father’s abuse, and there is evidence he told the victim he “tempted” his father. As a 7 year old boy. Yes, it was murky, stressful, horrible. For everyone. But especially for the victim.

    We need so much more education around CSA. The legal system has such high burdens of proof, that even if an adult victim comes forward, it is unlikely the case will even get to court unless it can be corroborated by others. And if it does, there is only a small percentage of perpetrators who are convicted. It seems Brian Houston was advised his father would be incarcerated for his crimes if it went to court. There was no doubt of his guilt.

    There is also a lot of hysteria around CSA and often it prevents the victims from coming forward. I often think about a well known and very creepy looking perpetrator who was released from prison after serving many years, and wherever he went, angry mobs drove him out of town. I would suggest statistics say there were sexual offenders amongst those self-righteous mobs. “Nice”, normal, ordinary people who quietly abuse their power over children close to them. But since CSA is so heinous we lose all objectivity. We cover up because we feel tainted by association. I know incest victims who don’t want to speak up because they feel their “blood” is somehow tainted because they are related to the offender.

    There are chains of command in place when it comes to reporting CSA in organisations and every organisation and church should have a sexual harassment policy in place. Generally the buck stops with the manager/leader. IF there is a suspicion that a child is being abused, the police need to be notified through the identified chain of command and specialist teams take over. If a child is asked specific questions by an untrained member of the public, their evidence may be inadmissible and the child said to have been “lead”. Listen, write notes then or later, don’t ask questions. Comfort and reassure the child. Notify.

    As for an adult survivor, listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t qualify what they say. Don’t ask for evidence. Believe them. Comfort them. You are not judge and jury. You might hate what you’re hearing and that will automatically cause you to feel very uncomfortable. This isn’t about how you feel. You may want to defend the person. That might make you feel better, but it will do harm to the victim. Generally, left to ourselves, we rationalize. Justify. Minimize. BUT JUST DON’T.

    Don’t say “well it’s in the past now” – they live with it every day. Don’t say “At least you weren’t…. raped. beaten. forced. killed.” Whatever it was, it was bad enough. If you’re hit by a shopping trolley coming down a steep hill it isn’t as bad as being hit by a truck coming down a steep hill. But they’re both bad.

  20. Sixtus says:

    Maybe I’m reading too much into the drawing but, minus the head, it’s not a bad phallic symbol. Ironic, given the context.

  21. Velour says:

    Adam,
    It is very common for pedophiles to sexually abuse hundreds of children during their lifetimes and get away with it. It is common for victims to want to keep a secret. Not have anyone told. And that’s what pedophiles are counting on to get away with sexually abusing more victims. Where there is one victim, there are always more victims.

    There are laws in place to shield the names of victims.

  22. Adam Julians says:

    Thank you Shazza,

    That was helpful. Addressing leaders and covering things up is a big issue. Have you hear of operation Yewtree in the UK?

    I suppose I am figuring out where I am at in this from my own experience of abuse (not sexual) as a child. The gravity of what I have experienced has recently been affirmed here. And, dare I say it, how it has been handed here could do with being considered. Being labelled or being made out to be patriarchal, and supporting abuse were not things that I expected here for, sharing of my experience and coping including practicing forgiveness.

    I suspect this has been a factor in how I have come across.

    What you say would have been useful for me. “As for an adult survivor, listen. Don’t interrupt. Don’t qualify what they say. Don’t ask for evidence. Believe them. Comfort them. You are not judge and jury. You might hate what you’re hearing and that will automatically cause you to feel very uncomfortable. This isn’t about how you feel. You may want to defend the person. That might make you feel better, but it will do harm to the victim… Don’t say “well it’s in the past now” – they live with it every day. Don’t say “At least you weren’t…. raped. beaten. forced. killed.” Whatever it was, it was bad enough. ” It helps me to look for people who will do that in order to enable my own healing. What you also say about the child is helpful too.

    What Kristin pointed out to me recently brought this home:
    “Kristin
    January 16, 2016 at 2:44 am
    Adam, what a load of rubbish those people told you! All of that was abuse, and just because the person doing the abuse is a woman does not make it ok. How does a child (M or F) have the power? It’s a terribly painful thing when you open up about abuse from the past, and it is used to abuse you again in the present.
    Please take care. Hope for a healing journey endures…
    Kindest regards, Kristin”

    Some people might feel uncomfortable about a man talking about having been abused as a child by a woman and by a woman as an adult. But labeling them with a name or calling them patriarchal is not OK. Saying they are supporting abuse for sharing of having practiced forgiveness isn’t either. I’ve found my coping to be to say if they have a problem with that then I would assert the right to have my freedom to express whether that is opposed to by any other opinion or consensus at ant time. And if someone still doesn’t like that then they can take a ticket, get in line with others that have done me wrong and kiss my ass.

    Some might find that shocking, but it absolutely makes sense. I would assert, for a survivor to say such a thing. Perhaps you can offer an opinion on this based on your experience with work?

    Being smug, having a lack of accountability and covering up can of course apply to any leader. The cycle of abuse continues indeed when this happens when abuse is not addressed.

    Velour, what you say is of course true about laws for protection and victims to want to keep a secret, often out of fear with pedophiles counting on secrecy to continue offending. What do you do to best protect a victim who doesn’t want the police informed? I guess sometimes (though I hate to say this) what is being said here is that for legal reasons, there a need for the crime to be reported even if it’s not what the victim wants and the legal process will result in them reliving the abuse as had happened in this case with the Royal Commission.

  23. Shazza tha dazzla says:

    I realize Adam we’re digressing from the original cartoon, but I was very moved by your story and I’m sorry you have had to suffer abuse. In my line of work, I’ve heard terrible stories from children who have had to endure unspeakable things at the hands of both women and men. The ones I see are mostly the result of serious drug addiction. Unbelievably cruel people..

    If you’ve been misunderstood or mistreated as a result of disclosing your abuse, I ‘m very sorry. The thing is, again in my experience, it’s rare for adult survivors NOT to be misunderstood, criticized, shut down or disbelieved. And that’s really unfair. Pain on top of pain. I hope you’re able to find more people who do validate your feelings. Like Kristin.

    I have heard of operation yewtree in the UK. Amazing isn’t it? The things that go on right under people’s noses with the perpetrators as brazen as can be. Practicing in the open and no one really looking or wanting to believe the evidence of their own eyes. Well done to the UK police.

    Good question again about reporting perpetrators when victims aren’t willing to come forward. I’ve heard stories of lawyers suggesting they would never encourage their own children to report CSA to the police because they know what the system will put them through. But there are ways.

    There are sites where you are able to report incidents and perpetrators and remain anonymous. There are agencies or entities that keep the identity of the person reporting the abuse a secret, and send the information about the incident or incidents to a police data bank. If common themes or names are found , the agency can be approached by the police, to see if the notifier is willing to be questioned further. Many victims of abuse live with terrible guilt that by not reporting they may be dooming others to similar abuse. So this way, they can come forward only if there’s corroborating evidence. I’ve heard many survivors say “I wouldn’t come forward if it’s just me. I can deal with this. But if I think others are being abused, then I will speak up”. I normally say something like “Don’t you deserve justice as much as others do?” but the reality is, there isn’t always justice.

    It’s been a really interesting discussion. I’ve enjoyed all the comments here. We may not all see things the same way, but I do enjoy hearing everyone’s different experiences and opinions.

  24. Adam Julians says:

    Thanks Shazza – yes, you and Kristin have been great.

    I appreciate your comment. Thank you.

    Yes we are going off topic but then again how is the attention to be taken towards care for the vulnerable. Does that deserve less attention than critiquing a leader?

    I hear you about your experience of adult survivors that are “NOT to be misunderstood, criticized, shut down or disbelieved. And that’s really unfair. Pain on top of pain.” What I have got going for me in my favour is experience of hardship in the Royal Air Force, with then motto “through adversity to the stars” with my conduct being described as “exemplary” when I was honourably discharged. What I also know from being tested for and diagnosed with dyslexia is that I have ability with vocabulary and abstract reasoning in the top 1%.

    So whatever difficulty I face, whatever pain I experience, these facts give me confidence and I find that the more that I exercise these abilities and take courage to face any criticism to attempts to shut down the stronger and freer I become. People are going to believe what they want to and trying to explaining to those that misunderstand is fruitless, I have found. The discerning will figure things out and at the same time, there’s no point in casting pearls with swine.

    An all of us have pain, having been damaged by others, circumstances we have faced or by our own choices. So we either deny that reality, or have awareness and are miserable about it, or take the healthy approach of letting healing in.

    Yes operation Yewtree is amazing with what is has done with exposing institutionalsed abuse. I didn’t believe it myself when it first camoe out about Jimmy Saville. He was seen by myself and many others as a guy to be trusted and a comfort with his “Jim’ll fix it” programme for kids. Turns out he was fixing it for kids in a whole different way. Did you hear the interview the John Lydon out of the Sex Pistols at the time that didn’t get aired by the BBC, in which he said he bet that Saville was up to all kinds of “seediness”. Rolf Harris too, and Stuart Hall – all on the surface appearing to be benign.

    I hear what you say about victims and lawyers saying if it were their own kids with what the system would put then through.

    It’s good to talk through these things and weigh things up. I’m not sure where that leave us with Brian Houston, but me feeling is that something more helpful has been achieved with the conversation in the way it has gone than it would have been if the attention had been on him alone.